Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Ellen Clark Sargent, 1826-1911
Written by Laura Crownover, Undergraduate, San Jose State University
Founder of the Nevada County Women's Suffrage Association, Secretary and Treasurer for the National Woman Suffrage Association, President of California Woman Suffrage Association
Ellen Swett Clark was born on July 1,1826 in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and was one of eight children born between 1813 to 1839 to Amos and Rebecca Clark. Ellen Clark met Aaron Augustus Sargent, her future husband, early in her life. Sargent had traveled to California during the gold rush and lived there for several years. He returned to his hometown in Newburyport and married Ellen Clark on March 15, 1852. The couple returned to Nevada City, California together in October of 1852, just eight months after being married. Together, they had three children: one son, George, and two daughters, Elizabeth and Ellen. The Sargents were both advocates of women's suffrage. Ellen Sargent became active in the suffrage movement after moving to California.
Ellen Sargent founded the Nevada County Women's Suffrage Association in 1869. This organization became instrumental to the state organization that would lead the fight for the eventual suffrage victory in California in 1911. She served as the honorary president of California's Equal Suffrage Association seven times. Sargent used her passion for women's rights outside the state by working for the federal amendment as well. She also co-founded an elite women's club called the Century Club that would be vital in helping elect women to local school boards.
Aaron Augustus Sargent was elected to the California Senate in 1856. He was elected to the United States House of Representatives and served from 1861-1863 and again from 1869-1873. He also served as a United States Senator from 1873-1879. Aaron Augustus Sargent originally introduced a woman's suffrage amendment to Congress in 1878. The amendment was reintroduced into Congress every single year for over forty years. Ellen Sargent became even more actively involved in the suffrage movement during their time in Washington, D.C. She joined the National Woman's Suffrage Association (NWSA) and worked as a secretary for NWSA and later as the treasurer under Susan B. Anthony for six years. Sargent was an original signer of the document, "Declaration and Protest of the Women of the United States by the National Woman Suffrage Association." The document was presented in protest to Senator Thomas Ferry who represented the United States government at a centennial celebration in Independence Square in Philadelphia on July 4, 1876.
In 1901, Ellen Clark Sargent sued the supervisors of San Francisco to recover property taxes she had paid as a protest in favor of women's suffrage. Sargent was represented in court by her son George, a practicing lawyer. Borrowing a famous slogan from the Revolutionary War, they argued that "taxation without representation" was unjust. They used this historical reference to prove that without the vote, women should not be required to pay taxes since they were not represented in the government. Although they lost their case, the tax protest movement made a public statement about women's suffrage.
Ellen Clark Sargent died on July 13, 1911 in San Francisco at her home. She was 85 years old at her death. The California Equal Rights Association (CERA) organized her memorial held in Union Square in San Francisco. Over two thousand people attended to honor the departed suffragist. Elizabeth Lowe Watson, President of the CERA, noted that "Mrs. Sargent was the staunch friend of the oppressed in all nations and in all walks of life. She was a firm believer in the principles of pure democracy, in a government of, by and for the people, men and women alike." Clark died three months before California voted in favor of women's suffrage and nine years before the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, originally proposed by her husband in 1878, granting women the right to vote across the nation.
1.)Chartier, JoAnn and Chris Enss. With Great Hope: Women of the California Gold Rush. Helena, MT: Two Dot, 2000
2.)Harris, Gloria G. and Hanna Cohen, Women Trailblazers of California: Pioneers to the Present. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2012. 49-51
3.)"California Women Pay Their Taxes Under Protest," Los Angeles Herald, June 2, 1901, 1
4.)"Honor Paid to Departed Woman," Oakland Tribune, July 26, 1911, 3
5.)"Memorial Services to Honor Suffragist," San Francisco Chronicle, July 25, 1911, 16
6.)"Mrs. Ellen C. Sergeant Passed to Great Beyond at San Francisco," Morning Union, July 14, 1911
7.)"Sargent," San Francisco Call, July 26, 1911
8.)U. S. Bureau of the Census, Seventh Census of the United States, 1850
9.)"Woman's Memory to Be Honored," San Francisco Call, July 25, 1911, 16.